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Archive for the ‘Fixing a Hole’ Category

by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Black Cat (1934/United States/directed by Edgar G. Ulmer)

stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi

written by Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric, and Tom Kilpatrick from Edgar Allan Poe’s story • photographed by John J. Mescall • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by Heinz Roemheld • makeup by Jack P. Pierce

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, the Allisons, a honeymooning couple, find themselves sidetracked by an auto accident. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), whom they met on the train, takes them the home of architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), a camp commandant who mistreated Werdegast during World War I. The two men fight a battle of will and wit, with the hapless newlyweds caught in the middle.

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What do secluded mansions, wartime prison camps, violent fear of black cats, modernist architecture, satanic cults, semi-incestuous marriages, floating corpses, and sadomasochistic feuds have to do with one another? Not very much, come to think of it. Except that you can find them all in The Black Cat, along with wickedly stylized sets, idiosyncratic classical music, and – in their first pairing – two pitch-perfect larger-than-life performances from Universal’s biggest horror stars. Neither one cracks a smile or lets a wink betray that they’re in on the joke (though Karloff’s arched eyebrow occasionally suggests a saucy self-awareness), leading us to wonder if it is a joke at all. As he would later with the noir Detour, Edgar G. Ulmer twists genre conventions, stylistic norms, and tonal expectations into perfect pretzels, until we’re left wondering whether the result is subversively brilliant or merely ridiculous.

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